My boot camp for the bonus years—a poem about preparing for old age

It’s National Poetry Day in New Zealand today, and this is my contribution: a poem about my eccentric plan to prepare for an imminent old age, hoping to make it as healthy and happy as possible.

I gave myself one year
to learn and rehearse the terrible role
of being old.
I was confused but I was committed.
Month by month I tackled
housing and eating and exercise
finance and hobbies and friends and voice
happiness and brain and mind
identity, and lastly, nervously
the existential bit
(spoiler: the one I failed):
coming to terms with death.

That was the plan, you can call it obsessive
call it silly or selfish, neurotic, excessive
but hey, it was certainly systematic.
A spreadsheet gives you a sense of control
and I hoped to still be myself
and the boss of myself when old
by getting the gist, keeping up with the play
making decisions and having a go—
polishing skills that might otherwise
slither away.

I gave every layer a nudge and a tweak
with practical acts and tiny habits
that somehow echoed and rippled and rolled
into a single category of life.
Or perhaps the ripple effect began
when I found my freaky streak
of hatred for the unyoung—
I don’t know. But once begun
love stepped in
and good things happened easily
without a shove.

This was my solitary boot camp
to prepare for the bonus years
that I never expected or desired.
Not a battle not a war
not a fluffy blue-sky dream
not a bullying regime
not a set of affirmations
but a kind of covenant
and a bunch of baby steps.
This was my year of being old.

Rachel McAlpine


2015 BOOT CAMP, drawing of two old boots

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12 thoughts on “My boot camp for the bonus years—a poem about preparing for old age

  1. Sadje says:

    I like it! 👍

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Then it’s yours.

      1. Sadje says:

        Thanks 🙏

  2. cedar51 says:

    how entertaining, and interesting…I was looking around your website just the other day, and I read all the bootcamp ideals…and here you are reminding me/us. I’m not yet 70 but I’ve had a bit of a tuff 18 months, although the last 6 have more about accepting that “I had a life back” and that isn’t completed yet, but I’m feeling less apprehensive about “what now?” A lot of baby steps up til now, I maybe able to make the steps a little more … hoping soon that I will be using those young laughing and joyous person steps, like “hop, skip, and jump”

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m honoured to know that you have been exploring the boot camp posts and that you understand the principles I was following. In your own blog you have been honest about your difficulties and I’m very relieved that you are less apprehensive about the next stage. Let’s live it up, not down! In your art you truly display how adventurous and joyous you are, exploring possibilities without a sign of fear.

  3. How do I follow your blog? I’ve searched and cannot find the ‘button’.
    I found you through Catherine’s blog and am encouraged by your life-approach both practical and just as written!
    The poetry for phones idea was/is ingenious, lady!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Hello Laura! I’m very happy to hear that you’re into my blog and happy that you told me you can’t find the Follow button. Some do, but I’ll see if we can make it more obvious. That’s no good at all, I need you in my world!

    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Is there a “Follow this blog?” button near the Like button under each post? (I don’t necessarily see what you see.)

      1. Nope. I’ve been on for many years and have never not found a follow button! (sorry about the double negative)Any suggestions? I’m willing to try whatever.

  4. JOY journal says:

    Bonus years. Love it!

  5. Gallivanta says:

    Not eccentric at all. It’s an excellent idea to plan for ageing. Thanks for your poem. My only contribution to National Poetry Day was to listen to the new NZ Poet Laureate read one of his poems.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Poets need readers and listeners! That was a valuable contribution:)

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